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Mystery as skull of toddler who went missing eight months ago found near his grandparents’ home

Mystery as skull of toddler who went missing eight months ago found near his grandparents’ home

The remains of a two-year-old boy were found just half a mile away from the family home from where he vanished eight months ago.

Emile Soleil, 2, disappeared from a family reunion at his grandparents’ house in Le Vernet – a small village in the Alpes-des-Haute-Provence with around 125 residents– on 8 July last year, sparking a huge manhunt involving drones, sniffer dogs and helicopters.

Ramblers in the Alps on Saturday discovered bones belonging to the toddler, including his skull, close to the isolated property. Lead prosecutor Rémy Avon, who is heading the judicial inquiry into his disappearance, said the possibilities that Emile had been murdered, kidnapped, or got involved in an accident were all being looked at.

Emile Soleil, 2, disappeared from a family reunion at his grandparents’ house in Le Vernet on 8 July last year (@GendarmerieNationale_Twitter/AF)
Emile Soleil, 2, disappeared from a family reunion at his grandparents’ house in Le Vernet on 8 July last year (@GendarmerieNationale_Twitter/AF)

A statement released by prosecutors in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday said genetic analysis identified the bones as belonging to Emile but that police were continuing to investigate the scene.

The search site is roughly one kilometre from the house in Haut-Vernet where the toddler was last seen with his grandfather, Philippe Vedovini, Le Figaro reports. The mayor of Vernet, François Balique, told the French newspaper the child’s remains were found on a path between the church and chapel of the village.

Emile’s family lives in Marseille and he was on holiday at his maternal grandparents’ home at the time of his disappearance. Police said at least 10 people were present at the property for a family reunion.

The boy was officially in the care of Mr Vedovini on the day of his disappearance, as his parents took a break. A witness saw Mr Vedovini, a physiotherapist-osteopath, cutting wood outside his house around the time Emile is thought to have wandered off.

An entrance to the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet, near the Haut-Vernet where Emile went missing (AFP via Getty Images)
An entrance to the French southern Alps village of Le Vernet, near the Haut-Vernet where Emile went missing (AFP via Getty Images)

The family was due to leave for a hiking outing, and Emile’s grandparents noticed he was missing when they went to put him in the car.

Emile was reportedly seen by two people when he left their home but they lost sight of him. Described as 3ft tall, with brown eyes and blond hair, Emile was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts with a green pattern and walking shoes when he disappeared.

Police issued an appeal for information about Emile on 9 July and launched an extensive search operation in Le Vernet, aided by nearly 500 volunteers.

On 13 July, the search was called off and investigators admitted they had “no clue” what had happened to Emile.

There had been no trace of Emile since the day he vanished, with investigators refusing to rule out any theory for the tragedy, including abduction and murder.

There was no immediate comment about the discovery of the bones from Emile's family, who were all at Easter Sunday mass when told.

José Morale, mayor of La Bouilladisse, the town near Marseille where Emile's family live for most of the year, said: “We will do our best to support them. For the parents, it's very complicated. There is no relief, the sadness is infinite, we are all dejected.”

Mr Vedovini is a devout Catholic who gave up a vocation to become a monk, in order to marry his wife, Anne Vedovini.

A card with the inscription reading
A card with the inscription reading "For the little Emile and his family" inside a chapel in La Bouilladisse, southern France (AFP via Getty Images)

They brought up 10 children, including Emile's mother, who is now known by her married name of Marie Soleil after she married Emile's father, Colomban Soleil, 26.

Lead prosecutor Mr Avon confirmed that Emile's parents' home, in the southern town of La Bouilladisse, was searched back in July, while the grandparents homes nearby, and in the Alps, were also investigated. The house from which Emile went missing is an Alpine holiday home, one regularly used by the whole family.

The disappearance is reminiscent of the BBC series The Missing, in which a young boy vanishes while on holiday with his family in France, only to be killed in a hit-and-run accident after chasing a fox.

On Sunday, the Aix-en-Provence public prosecutor announced the development in a statement. It read: “On March 30, 2024, the national gendarmerie was informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet Vernet.

“The investigators took possession of the bones and immediately transported them to the IRCGN in order to carry out genetic identification analyses which made it possible to conclude on March 31 that they were the bones of the child Emile Soleil.

“Under the direction of the investigating magistrates, the IRCGN is continuing criminalistic analyses of the bones and the national gendarmerie is dedicated to deploying resources to undertake additional research in the geographical area where they were found.”

The Facebook group “Pray for Emile” where Emile’s mother regularly posted calls for prayer to find her little boy – was flooded with tributes for the boy.

One wrote: “Thinking of you in this painful ordeal. May God welcome your little Émile in his paradise where love and kindness reign. May he support you in these times, lots of courage and love for you, and your entire family.”

Another added: “My prayers are with you on this day and those that follow.”